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Monks fight 'poisonous' tobacco

Monks fight 'poisonous' tobacco

A two-day workshop involving Buddhist monks from Cambodia, Thailand and Sri Lanka

heard that monks ought to take the lead in combating smoking.

Thailand was shocked recently to learn that figures showed smoking-related illnesses

are the leading cause of death among that nation's monks.

The International Workshop on Buddhism and Tobacco Control held May 7-9 discussed

ways to reduce the level of smoking among the country's monks and its other citizens.

The Venerable Seng Somony, deputy director of National Buddhist Education, said the

best way to get the message across to the people was for monks themselves to quit

the habit.

"Monks are very important in educating Buddhists to stop smoking," he said.

"If they can do this they will get good kharma. They can help themselves by

helping others. This act would be good for society and for all people around the

world."

The workshop was organized by the Ministry of Cults and Religion, the Ministry of

Health, and the World Health Organization among others. Its objective was to bring

together monks from various countries to work out how to apply Buddhist teachings

to combating tobacco use. The role monks should take was also discussed.

The conference declaration agreed that tobacco should be classified by the fifth

precept, "Sura Merayamacheahpama", as a harmful and addictive substance.

The workshop's results will be included in future Buddhist teachings.

Ven. Somony said local monks would learn numerous useful lessons from the workshop.

He quoted figures suggesting that as many as 70 percent of the country's clergy were

smokers, although an anti-smoking drive may have encouraged as many as 25 percent

to quit.

"It is like sharpening a knife - we have to move step by step," he

said. "We cannot force or order them to quit, but we can encourage them to quit

on their own."

Thailand's Venerable Suchat Chinoraso, a doctor of Buddhist philosophy, said monks

had a role in teaching smokers to quit for the sake of their health.

"Their families will be strong if they don't smoke, and everybody loves you

when you are not smoking," he said. "I teach them again and again: if you

are not smoking that is very good and the Buddha likes you."

Ven. Suchat said the number of monks lighting up in Thailand had declined from a

half to around one-third. Those wishing to join the monkhood in Thailand today, he

said, had to quit smoking first.

Sri Lanka's Venerable I. Pannatissa said monks were forbidden from smoking. He advised

Cambodia to institute more smoke-free zones and improve its education about the dangers

of tobacco.

"I'm very pleased that the Sri Lankan people never give cigarettes to monks,

even secretly," he said. "Please don't hold a cigarette while going to

the pagoda, or into school, or hospital and other public areas."

Ven. Somony said people should be educated not to offer cigarettes to monks, and

the monks themselves must start to warn people of the dangers. Among these were that

tobacco use made people poorer as they spent money on cigarettes, which made them

ill and forced them to pay for treatment.

"Monks must educate people to stop smoking and tell them the truth: that cigarettes

are poisonous and kill one's health," he said.

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